2020-02-17 15:39:00  2218427
Of Islam, beer cans and the lowercase 't'
Opinion


By Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

As Tun Mahathir's suggestion of changing the language of instruction of science and mathematics in our primary and secondary schools, I would like to draw our attention to the worsening of our understanding of the larger world due to the lack of English language comprehension.

As I have written previously, my support for Tun M's statement is not the same as his reasons of bettering the two subjects. Mine is more about improving the quality of English and also towards opening the minds and hearts of our students to accept the many different cultures, beliefs and races not only among the 39 ethnic groups of Malaysia but more importantly the many thousands in the world.

I would like to raise two incidents that may look or seem extremely hilarious but have significantly far reaching importance.

The first incident that I want to share with Malaysians came recently to my knowledge that shocked even a season critic of education as I.

A non-Malay volunteer teacher told me when she was teaching in Kedah, she noticed that the pupils would never write the lower case letter 't' and would always capitalize the letter wherever it occurred. She would always point out these mistakes but the pupils would not follow her instruction.

After much questioning, she discovered that the Malay pupils were afraid to write the lower case letter 't' because it looked like a Christian cross, and that was 'haram' for them!

Shocking isn't it? But really? In Penang, Malay residents once complained of a lighted corridor and lift shaft that resembled a cross that required a mufti to give construction management advice.

That's how narrow-minded the Malays are in terms of exposure to the English speaking world. With the world at the touch of their fingertips through the smartphone, the Malays are as backward as if in a valley isolated from modern civilization.

Another incident that happened to me was when I was at a local grocery store lining up to pay for my purchase.

Ahead of me was an Indian who bought several cans of beer. While he was counting his money, the cashier who was a Malay girl was putting the purchases in a plastic bag when she stopped and asked, "Boleh tak tolong masukkan tin beer ini sendiri? Saya orang Islam dan saya tak boleh pegang tin ini."

The Indian was surprised and asked why and the girl repeated her statement. I intervened and told the girl that in Islam to drink was haram but touching a beer can was permissible. Anyway, I added, your Muslim colleagues must have put the cans on the shelves and since they handled it, why not you?

The Malay girl was quiet for a few seconds and finally retorted an answer, "Saya tak boleh pegang sebab saya ada air sembahyang." Although I knew she was probably lying, as I did not want her to get into any more trouble and holding up the line, I held the cans myself and put them in the plastic bag for the Indian customer. I apologized to the Indian man for the girl's obvious ignorance.

The incidents, though separate in communication and religion, stem from the same fundamental fact of lack of exposure to the Western English speaking world.

Many Muslims live in non-Muslim countries like USA and Great Britain and they have their own interpretation of working and living lifestyle among the non-Muslim community.

The ustaz in Malaysia teaches a narrow brand of Islam and does not speak English in order to compare notes with the counterparts in another country. How are we as a nation and how are Malays as a people going to be successful when they can't even comprehend basic communication and cultural situations? We live in Malaysia with diverse cultures and race and cannot treat "the other" as an inconvenience to us. Without "the other", the girl would probably never even get a job.

If teaching science and mathematics can improve the English communication aspect by increasing its contact hours, then I say we must do it.

I know there are studies about the ineffectiveness of the first PPSMI, but the critical point there was that the teachers were unprepared and they were the ones reluctant or unable to cope with the change due to their own ignorance of the language.

I am sometimes amused at people like an ABIM professor who disagreed with Tun M's suggestion by saying that it is a simple matter of improving and strengthening the English teaching and learning in school. The professor did not outline any strategies toward this end.

I would like the professor to answer some questions. Can the subject of Bahasa Melayu be reduced in its learning and teaching time by 50% and the time given to English? Can the subjects of Sejarah and Geografi and others be reduced also and donated to English? More importantly, can the subject of Ugama Islam be reduced by 70% and give the time to English? I am sure the professor would disagree about reducing BM, as he is a Malay and of course would never reduce Ugama Islam as he is ABIM.

There are of course many methods of improving English without reducing the time allocated to other subjects. This would require the government to spend hundreds of millions of ringgit to hire assistant teachers to divide the English classes to half for reading, writing and speaking practices. More millions will also be spent on the proper reading books for English and more library time be given to students.

In conclusion, I hope Malays can see that it is imperative that English be made the medium of teaching for science and maths as this has already been a tried and successful affair during my generation. To do so, we must give the proper financial support, proper amount of time allocated for English and appropriate manpower planning.

In order to move forward, each race must review its priorities of language preference by asking the question of the bigger picture. Unfortunately, those who insist on their own cultural language be used extensively, have already been successful within the context of a certain period of history or economic and political constructs that benefited them. Those variables have now changed. Don't gamble with the lives and future of the young ones just because we are sentimental and unnecessarily "patriotic" about our own mother tongue language.

(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at a local university.)









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